Ordet (1955): “Why is there not one among these believers who believe?”

l_48452_04fac33eBased on a play by Kaj Munk of the same name, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet (1955) tells the story of the Borgen family, who are farmers living in the Denmark countryside. The film focuses on three sons: Mikkel, whose wife Inger is pregnant; Anders, who seeks the hand of local tailor’s daughter Anne; and Johannes, who has gone mad due to reading too much Kirkegaard and believes himself to be Jesus Christ. Morten Borgen, their father, provides a structure and moral compass for the film. As the story progresses, the religious beliefs of all of these men come into conflict with those around them.

I was inspired to watch this film after reading an excellent mini-review over at Black Is White. Despite being a fan of Dreyer’s work, I’d never thought to watch this one, and now, I’m so glad I did. Ordet is a film that’s dramatic without hyperbole. It’s a film that relies on its skilful dialogue and character development to keep you watching. It’s a great example of a film that keeps its main theme of religion in a prime position, without beating you over the head with it.

Religion permeates most of the frames and conversations in the film, however, not once does the film attempt to convert or convince the viewer. Whether it’s a debate between Mikkel’s agnosticism and Inger’s devoted faith, or a scene where Johannes is proselytising from the top of a dune, or a scene where Anders is confronted with the fundamentalism of his beloved Anne’s family, the film poses many questions about Christianity for the purpose of exploring rather than explaining. With this in mind, the ending of the film is actually goosebumps-inducing, and was a complete surprise.

The visuals in Ordet are equal parts lush and expansive, but can also be very repressive. All of the interior shots are densely-packed and dark. However during certain key moments in the film, there is a sense of vast space in the light and setup of the scene. I really loved the cinematography of the film. Although it wasn’t as richly symbolic or ‘artsy’ as Dreyer’s previous work, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), there were a number of moments where the cinematography was absolutely stunning. This is a pretty amazing film that definitely deserves a watch, for its story, characters, dialogue, and beautiful visuals.

With that in mind, here are some examples of moments in the film where the cinematography is 100% amazing.

Warning: Some photos contain spoilers!

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4/5
Watch the trailer here.

16 comments

  1. What wonderful visuals. Looks a stunning film. I can see why you highlight the cinematography.

    1. It really is a generally stunning film. Loved it!

  2. Thanks Anna! I’m so glad you liked it 🙂 Nice review, I think I really need to check out some more Dreyer, I liked Joan of Arc as well.
    By the way I watched the surreal short you recommended, but I wouldn’t know how to review it haha but I enjoyed it a lot (especially the unusual score), so thanks for that 😀

    1. I loved it! I’m planning on seeing more Dreyer as well, I’m always impressed by his films. Glad you liked the surreal short! It was admittedly difficult to review, but super easy to enjoy.

  3. Very intriguing. I haven’t seen this picture but its now on my radar. Due to the spoiler warnings I only glanced at the images. They really do show an amazing sense of how to use the camera. Again, very intriguing.

    Enjoyed the review.

    1. Glad you enjoyed! 🙂 I’d love to hear what you think when you see it!

  4. Great review!

    And those are definitely some beautiful shots.

    1. Thanks! It’s a beautiful film!

  5. The best moment is when the father tells the son whose wife died that she’s in heaven now and the son responds by saying something like, “Yes, but I loved her body too.” Slays me every time!

    1. That moment was completely heartbreaking! Such a beautiful use of language in this film.

  6. It does look beautiful! Although the plot sounds quite strange… a son who thinks he is Jesus Christ? I can see how that would be problematic.

    1. It is really beautiful! The plot is definitely unique. I think they were making the point that too much logical analysis of belief can drive someone crazy. It’s handled in a respectful way, though.

  7. Great review!

    I absolutely adore this film. I remember I had it sitting on my shelf for ages before I watched it. I kept reading the blurb on the back and thinking it sounded boring. So glad I finally got around to watching it. Some really interesting and challenging ideas about faith etc. in there. Also, not at all boring.

    1. Thanks! Totally agreed – I was really surprised that such a dialogue-heavy, and ideology-heavy, film could be so suspenseful. What an excellent film.

  8. Ordet is a film I never really appreciated the first time I watched it, but I think in retrospect that was mainly because it was a rubbish print. When I saw it again in a beautiful restoration, it blew me away. One of the best films dealing with religious experience I think (though I speak as one who is hardly deeply involved in religious life). Still, wonderful stuff. I love Dreyer; his last film Gertrud is one of my favourites, and Day of Wrath is also wonderful (along with most of his silent films).

    1. I agree with you – it’s definitely one of the best Christianity-themed films that I’ve seen (speaking also as someone who has pretty much nothing to do with religion). And thanks, now I have two more Dreyer films to watch! 🙂

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